Crismatt fills new role for Colombia: Ace

Versatile Padres righty gets the nod for his country's World Baseball Classic opener

March 8th, 2023

PEORIA, Ariz. – “Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays."

smiles as he vividly recalls his childhood in Barranquilla, Colombia. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays -- those were the days he made the trek to the local Little League field for baseball practice. Nothing too formal. Crismatt played third base, and he pitched. Then, Saturday was game day.

This Saturday is also game day for the 28-year-old right-hander. A different sort of game day. On Saturday, Crismatt takes the ball for Team Colombia in its World Baseball Classic opener against Mexico at Chase Field.

And the best part about Crismatt -- the only part you really need to know to truly understand the ethos of Nabil Crismatt -- is that he's going to treat it like any other Saturday he spent playing Ligas Pequeñas.

"It's the same baseball," Crismatt said.

At the heart of Crismatt's persona is his ability to enjoy every moment he spends at a ballpark -- when the going is good and when the going is not so good. His teammates and coaches think that's part of what makes him so successful.

How does a guy whose fastball averaged just over 90 mph last season carve himself a role on a World Series contender? Because he throws the heck out of that low-90s fastball. Or, as one teammate noted, "When he pitches, it looks like he thinks he throws it 100 mph."

Crismatt was initially slated to start Colombia's second pool-play game. But that start was bumped up a day when José Quintana went down with a fractured rib this week. Suddenly, Crismatt has the responsibility of starting the game that could tilt Pool C.

To Crismatt, it really is just another Saturday at the ballpark. But it clearly represents more than that. Crismatt's family flew in from his offseason home in Miami this week. His father, José, came in from Barranquilla. No matter how Nabil downplays it -- that's quite something.

"For me," José Crismatt said in Spanish, "it means seeing my son accomplish his dream. ... The greatest joy is seeing -- and I will always enjoy it -- what he has accomplished."

Nabil is entering his fourth big league season, owner of a 3.38 ERA. He's the do-everything man on the Padres’ pitching staff. He’s also one of the most beloved figures in a clubhouse full of superstars – and the happiest.

"I just try to enjoy it," Crismatt said. "I know baseball is just a short time in your life. I just try to be the best person I can around people. I just try to be friendly. You never know what's going to happen in the future, so I just try to enjoy every single day that I'm here and make it a good memory for [everyone else]."

Other players might espouse a carefree mindset. But few live it like Crismatt does. He's always smiling. Unless he’s sleeping. His teammates deride him for that sometimes -- a big league ballplayer falling asleep in a clubhouse on game day.

"He'll be sitting in his locker, with his eyes closed," fellow right-hander recalled last season. "We'll wake him up, and he'll be like, 'I'm just relaxing, Papi, don’t worry about me.'"

For Crismatt, baseball was just a hobby until he was 15 years old. It was then that he realized it might become something more. José made the agonizing decision to let Nabil leave home to play in the Dominican Republic, where he signed with the Mets to begin his pro career.

"Especially as a parent, we always want our kids to be doctors, lawyers, engineers -- but I decided to bet on his strengths, which were sports," José said. "And it’s definitely admirable how hard he has worked -- he’s worked really hard -- to be where he is now."

Twelve years later, Nabil is starting the World Baseball Classic opener for Colombia in Quintana’s absence.

There's no one better suited for that sudden challenge. Crismatt’s adaptability has made him invaluable in San Diego. When  strained his groin moments before a start in Arizona last season, Crismatt filled in and pitched three scoreless.

Crismatt has been a spot starter, a long man and even worked his way into high-leverage relief innings last year. Still, Crismatt makes it no secret that, most of all, he enjoys starting. He has loved building toward a starter's workload this spring, with the Classic in mind.

"It'll be great for him," said Padres manager Bob Melvin. "And who knows, down the road? He gives us such flexibility. ... He has the ability to do just about anything, and there's very few guys that can do it like that."

Just about anything -- including ace of a national team?

"He thought he was the ace, anyway," Melvin said, with a grin. "Which is what you love about Nabil."

José knows exactly why:

"When he sets a goal for himself, he knows how to fight to reach it. I tell him he’s my idol. 

"My son turned into my idol."